Don’t Let Research Opportunities Pass You By

One of the best parts of being a writer is research. Research can take you to different cities (or websites when funds are low), unusual restaurants, meeting exotic people with rich history, or in my case, a longsword class. I wanted to share what I learned, not only to help others with their writing, but to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone a bit more.

I attended an ancient European longsword class taught by New York Times Best Seller, Melissa Marr. The sword, surprisingly, only weighed two and a half pounds. Light at first, but soon the weight of the sword burned my arms as my speed increased. Yes, my forearms were sore the next day. The names of positions were German, and we walk through several at the beginning of class.

Soon, we were practicing a particular set of strikes against another person. Then we walked with these attacks. The purpose was muscle memory and to strike at one’s opponent without thought.

One thing I learned was often the movies get it wrong. Opponents don’t clash in a bind (when two swords meet) and then proceed to struggle in that same position to give insults. There are many responses to a bind and they all happen very quickly. A few are: the void, where one steps back; disarming one’s opponent by a variety of methods; and maneuvering the blade to strike at one’s opponent (a few being the wind, undercut, or take off −where you try to behead your opponent).

Not only was this class a blast (yes, I’m going back), but I learned so much about fighting. When writers don’t do their research, whether it be about location, tools, weapons or even food, it shows. Next time I write a fight scene, I have so many more options in my toolbox.  So work outside of your comfort zone, now and again. Like the saying goes: “We often regret what we don’t do.”

The Balance between Creativity and Constraint

In all art forms, there is a thin line between creativity and constraint. As artists, we all want to push that envelope, to create a unique story or piece of art, to let our mind be free and uninhibited. That is why I create. Those few moments of bliss in creating something you love.

But as an artist that wants to make a paycheck and to be marketable in this economy, there has to be some constraints. For writing, you need to learn the technique and grammar needed to sell a book.

“Paradoxically, creativity thrives on the tension between freedom and constraint,” says Brent Rosso, an organizational psychology professor at Montana State University. “They’re the yin and yang of creativity.”

Remember though, the individual artist is the negotiator of this balance and always has the final decision. I think of my muse as a beautiful little monster whose creativity needs to be feed with freedom and exercised with restraint. Here are a couple things I use to keep my muse well feed and in check.

  1. Have a trusted writing group whose feedback I trust. They will let you know when you get too far off the beaten path.
  2. Give myself permission to fail. This may be the hardest one yet. Shut the door to the peanut gallery. Do your thing, and if you believe in it that’s all that matters. Experience is sometimes the best teacher.
  3. Try new things, whether writing in a new point of view or possibly a new genre or prose. Try your hand at poetry or short story maybe. Even drawing or coloring can open creative pathways. Don’t be afraid to try.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite sayings. I look at it often as I’m now finishing up edits on book two of my The Dark Rising series.

Write without Fear

Finding Perspective in Your Writing Career

As I anxiously await the release of my new book, my To Do List is growing by the minute. I can be easily overwhelmed by the promoting, editing, blogging, blog tours, and the list continues.  But before I spiraled into crazy land filled with sticky notes, red pens and caffeine IVs, I sat down and wrote this list of how to keep things in perspective.

  1. Don’t Compare Myself to Others: Online I find amazing authors who have the blogging, promoting and reviews down to an art. As a debut author, I can use ideas of things that work for others, but once I start saying I should be more like X, or I’m not as good as Y, then things will travel from bad to worse. Every artist is different, and we have to acknowledge and honor that difference in ourselves.
  2. Set Realistic Goals: I have pushed back my deadline to finish edits on book two for the third month and continual rake myself across the coals for it. I wasn’t being realistic though setting a goal in December when I have five kids. It wasn’t going to happen. At this time in my life, I may not be able to complete a novel in six months. It goes back to #1 on my list. Set goals that work for me, not others.
  3. Time Management: This is a hard one for me. Many writers have other full-time jobs, and it’s a challenge to make time for writing. I just make it a priority to at least do something little each day. I want to make a habit and feel good about keeping that habit. Others may have to do big chunks of time on the weekends. Find whatever works for you and do it.
  4. Enjoy the Journey: Sometimes I have to take a step back from the edits and blogs and reviews, and just write for fun, or maybe even read a great book. If I don’t, I’ll forget why I picked this career and lose myself in the stress of it. It’s not worth it.

I’d love to hear what helps you stay grounded for I’m sure I’ll need this more than once.

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The Demons in the Writer’s Mind

I recently signed my first writing contract. When people learn of my accomplishment they often congratulate me and ask how happy or excited I am. I always reply positively, which in the first moments of learning about the contract offer I was truly happy and excited to begin my journey as a professional author.  Sadly, I don’t think the feeling lasted twenty-four hours before those dark thoughts crept in: the publisher must have made a mistake, or everyone I know will hate the book. Initially, I felt alone. Other authors published easily with a smile on their face−see their Facebook photo for proof.

But slowly I found this topic coming up more and more with authors, and I think it is worth repeating. Writing maybe a solitary activity, but we’re not alone−and many people fake their Facebook photo (see my super smiling one for proof). A lot of my author friends experience the doubt and demons, even after publishing several books. At the ANWA 2016 Conference, J. Scott Savage spoke about how after seventeen releases, he still experiences the gut wrenching fear before each book release.

So how do we fight these demons that can threaten to take us down?

The first step is to RECOGNIZE THE NEGATIVE THOUGHT. Acknowledge it is a fear, an opinion, but not a fact.

Then QUESTION IT/MOCK IT even. Discredit it to give it less power.

Finally, REPLACE IT with an empowering thought, a mantra maybe. Personally, I don’t go around saying how wonderful I am. I’m not there yet, but I start with what I know to be true: I love to write. I write every day, and I write for a reason. The rest isn’t as important.

I hope this helps along your journey in writing or in life. I’ve love to hear any of your tips or experiences.

DeAnna

What can Novelist Learn from the Movies?

I recently read the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder , a must have for screenwriters and all story tellers. As I’ve been reading, and going over notes from my last conference, I realize there is much we can learn from TV and movies.

  1. Dialogue: This is the most obvious of course, but TV/Movies are littered with good, and bad, dialogue. It is a great way to hear what works and what doesn’t. Aprilynne Pike recently said that she thinks her writing is better when watching Gilmore Girls. I agree it is a witty show that does a great job with dialogue. And as writers, I think it’s important to read our dialogue out loud to help edit our work.
  1. Plotting: Because of the short length of movies (in comparison to sitting down and reading an 80,000 word novel), movies are a great way to look at the plot of a story and see what works. Most movies follow a formula, and those that don’t struggle. Blake Snyder goes over plotting in his book for screenwriting, and it mirrors a lot of what I’ve read from other writing books as well. Usually you can watch the major plot points happen like clockwork.
  1. Characters: Watching Pulp Fiction and seeing how Quentin Tarantino makes two drug addicted hit-men likeable is amazing. Whether creating an anti-hero or making secondary characters memorable (I think of Second Hand Lions), TV and movies are great examples.

So don’t feel guilty next time your binge watching your favorite series. Think about what makes the show work for your or where it can improve. Ignore the guilt and chalk it up to homework.

Three Truths and A Lie: Creating Characters that are Believable

Do you remember the game three truths and a lie? It is a group game often played to get to know one another. A person tells three truths and one lie, and the other people have to figure out what is the lie.

This game is a great example of creating believable characters. In the game people try to create truths that may appear out of character and a lie that is ordinary.

As authors we can often create truths for our characters that don’t align with the world we have created for them. I currently am struggling with one of my characters that is flat in my story. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.

*Character’s Journal: I have to go beyond the standard character questioner we often see, and write in their voice. Even if the story is not from their point of view, I write a scene or more in the character’s point of view.

*Motivation: Know your character’s motivation. Not only the motivation that drives them to accomplish their goals, but possible unconscious motivation that drives their personality, speech, and actions.

*Avoid Stereotypes: Most characters can be easily categorized-which is fine. Go beyond the stereotype though. Make yours unique and realistic by giving them a history, a motivation, and a voice all their own.

Delve into your inner Freud and create characters that are complex and interesting. And just for fun I added below my three truths and one lie. Feel free to join in.

  1. 3-truths-a-lieI am prepared for a zombie apocalypse.
  2. I find being underwater peaceful.
  3. I have eaten a cricket.
  4. My first pet was a five foot snake.
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Riding the High of a Writers Conference

I recently went to the 30th Annual Anwa Writers’ Conference this weekend, and though my body is exhausted, my mind is filled with ideas, fueled by motivation, and warmed with a slew of new friends in the publishing world.

It took me a several years to go to a writers’ conference. I thought for sure I could learn just as much through classes and books. This weekend I realized conferences are more than the new techniques we learn (though I found some invaluable). Conferences include growing friendships in the professional writing world, and being inspired to fulfill your potential.

Where else could I casually talk to a publishing manager about my book and the current trends in the market? Or learn from New York Times Best Selling authors about craft and get to chat over lunch with them?  With some of the bigger conferences you may not get this opportunity, but you need to find what conference fits your needs.

Now that I am back home and alone in front of my computer, I’m trying to decide what is the best way to keep riding this high and fulfilling my dream. Here are some tips I thought I’d share and feel free to add some of your own.

  1. Stay in Touch: When you make connections at the conference, keep them. Friend them on social media and keep that connection if it works for you. These writers, published or not, are serious about their careers. Support each other on your journey.
  2. Utilize the Connection: If you met an agent and plan on querying them next year, make sure to remind them where you met.  And with other authors, reach out to switch reviews or beta reads.
  3. Read those Notes: We all took notes over the weekend, but don’t let your conference notes get buried in that deep drawer we never venture too.
  4. “Success is in the doing”: Don’t let those negative thoughts most writers have, get to you. We can’t wait for happiness when we get our first book deal, or make a certain list, or win a certain award. Live in the journey. Live in the writing.

 

Feed Your Muse

I love to write. I don’t know why anyone would pick this profession for any other reason. A month ago though, the dark monsters of the swamp came out to haunt me. You know the ones with those killer claws: stress, anxiety, and insecurity.  And with writing content articles and editing my current novel, writing had morphed into some twisted self-deprecating job.

I needed a break. I needed to close my computer for a few days and feed my muse.

It was difficult at first to shut down the nagging voices telling me to be productive. But I closed my laptop, packed my bags, and escape to the country.

I went for walks. Got caught in the rain. Read for enjoyment. Mother Nature calmed my soul and left my imagination free to play.

Not everyone is not able to run away, but we still need to make time for ourselves and, as ted talksElizabeth Gilbert referred to it, Our Elusive Creative Genius.  In this TED talks, she explains that when we see our muse, or creative genius, as something outside of us, then it is easier to maintain our sanity.  It is worth the time to watch.

I enjoy thinking of my muse as a separate identity or creative genius. One we must feed and nurture in the hope that it’s won’t torment us.

How do you feed your muse?

The Brothers Grimm

 

Every now and again, I like to dip into history and non-fiction. I find the change of pace welcoming and what I learn always intriguing. My most recent read was The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga.

Jacob and Wilhem Grimm are most popular for combing the German countryside for fables and legends and publishing them. Disney has made a mint on several of their stories such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. But the story behind their lives was a true and interesting tale woven with kings, queens, and even revolution. The brothers Grimm preserved these ancient tales and also the German language with their books on linguistics.

My favorite part was when a critic of their first published book of stories complained that they were too graphic and disturbing for children. Jacob (the elder brother) responded that grew him up with his mother telling him the tale of How Some Children Played at Slaughtering, to show him the dangers of playing, and it worked for him. The story is about children who pretended to play slaughtering pigs and ended up killing their playmates. Fantastically morbid, I know, but part of me is still intrigued enough to read it. Wilhem Grimm’s take in response to the critics was also noteworthy: “You can fool yourself into thinking that what can be removed from a book can also be removed from real life.”

The Grimm brothers survived many political regimes and Napoleon’s conquests that sent soldiers into the streets outside their house. They dealt with poverty and death. By the end of their lives, their work and contributions were celebrated and revered. They spent their last days together, as a family.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book: “In a grain of sand we may see the sense and significance of large globes of which our world is one of the smallest.” Jacob Grimm

Old School Dystopia

I love how dystopia has taken off lately. I devoured Hunger Games with everyone else and recently watched the fourth movie in the theaters. Suzanne Collins told of pain, love, and war masterfully, and of Katniss’s antagonist, the government.

I recently went back to some of the old school dystopian stories that I loved. And reading them a second time, helped me appreciate not only the story but the artistry involved in every word. I couldn’t help but mark up Fahrenheit 451 and pause in awe several times. 1984 left me with the haunting images that I’ll never forget. Another one off the beaten path I found was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper. There were secrets unseen that left my mind reeling for days.

Enjoying the revival of this genre makes me appreciate the classics all the more. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder… live as if you’d drop dead in 10 seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there were never such an animal.”